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Academia: The All-New Interactive Development Program @ The Creative Circus

Posted on November 9, 2009 and read 3,369 times

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brendanarticlepic Academia: The All New Interactive Development Program @ The Creative CircusBrendan Watson
Director of Education
ihaveanidea

The most hectic time in any agency is during a big client pitch.  As the presentation creeps closer, soiled pizza boxes are stacked almost as high as discarded print outs. Empty take-out containers double as pillows for sleep-deprived agency folk.  During the last few weeks in particular, empty coffee mugs are about as ubiquitous as unshaven faces. It’s under these unique circumstances that you to see individuals’ true colours.

Some thrive, while others crack. It seems only once we’re pushed beyond our limits that we really see how far we can go. In an ad school setting, the closest thing to a pitch process is portfolio review time. For Creative Circus students, this isn’t just a graduate concern, every quarter their portfolios are reviewed by a panel of judges.

In the two weeks leading up to the reviews, known as “Panel”, the school goes into ’24 Hour Period.’ As the name implies the school is open and buzzing around the clock. Not unlike a casino, it’s difficult to decipher day from night during this time. I should know: I recently flew to Atlanta  to visit Circus during it’s most honest time.

Entering the converted warehouse, I was pleasantly surprised. The zombies I expected where actually well composed ad students. Though extremely short on time, they were more than willing to give up a few minutes to sit down with a guy projecting a funny Canadian accent. To ensure they didn’t feel cheated, I was threw in a few “Ehs” and “A-boots.”

Just days away from graduation, students felt bittersweet about their imminent departure. For the past two years the Circus has been home, while their apartments were used only occasionally for sleeping, partying and something they called, “original dance moves”.

The group I spoke with was this year’s PR darlings. Faced with a challenge similar to last year’s Cookies for Cannes group, this team of starving students created The London Project to offset costs associated with a trip to pickup their D&AD Awards. The premise was simple: buy an item, such as a $100 rubber chicken, or a $500 blow up whale and the students will brand it and carry it around London. In the end agencies, alumni and teachers not only got a picture of their item in front London landmarks, but their good deeds were broadcast around the globe through social media.

Despite being in the middle of their 24-hour Period, the hot topic wasn’t Panel, instead everyone was buzzing about the imminent launch of Circus’ brand new Interactive Development Program. It’s an expansion both in program offerings and physical space – and it’s enough to make some graduates contemplate sticking around for another year. It’s a change that’s poised to effect not only those enrolled in the new program, but also students studying in adjacent streams.

It’s the uniqueness that tempts would-be grads. While other US ad schools have dabbled in interactive, this is the first time an institution has approached it quite like this. It’s the marriage of their new technical program with their historically solid creative program that really puts the Circus in position to shakes things up on the educational circuit – both locally and abroad.

Educationally speaking, there’s been an unhealthy divide between technical and creative. The code junkies studied in one place, while the creatives built their book in another. For the most part, the groups really didn’t meet until they were thrown together in an agency setting. Until now.

The thinking mirrors some of the same principals the school was built on when it opened its doors 14 years ago: If you put Art Directors, Copywriters, Designers and Photographers all in the same building and have them work together, they’ll be that much better equipped for the agency world upon graduation. Overcome the learning curve of those working relationships during school and you hit the ground running once you start in an agency.

Program head Mike Ellan talks about getting coders and creatives to speak the same language. It’s a sentiment the goes far beyond technical languages like Java and Flex. It’s about training the Interactive students to truly understand Creative and vice-versa. Previously, a creative might have mocked up an amazing Augmented Reality campaign for their portfolio, but pretty soon they’ll be able to sit with a coder and actually  bring it to life in a workflow that mirrors an actual agency.

It’s a very forward looking initiative. With each passing day, interactive and online are playing larger roles within this industry. What the Circus has really set out to do, is take both parts of the interactive equation and put them together, much earlier than traditionally done.

As Ellan put it, “Where else can you code ActionScript in the morning and hand craft type in the afternoon?”

From day one the two-year program set out to do things differently. Although it was officially announced on August 20th, there was no splashy launch campaign. The pages of CMYK and Ad Age were void of any kind of ad announcing the program. Instead the admin team took a ‘practice what you preach’ mentality and relied on social media to spread the word. They took to the digital airwaves and quickly generated a buzz equally amongst the ad community and the interactive. The programs’ first intake was October 5th and ten interactive students ran away to join the Circus.

When the school first opened it occupied only a portion of the renovated warehouse it now calls home. Over the years it has taken over bits and pieces as dictated by student population growth. However, with the introduction of this new program, the Circus undertook it’s biggest physical expansion yet. The new technology wings gives way to three state-of-the art computer labs, additional classrooms and eventually, a full A/V studio.

Students will be programming on dual-boot, dual monitor systems in a projector-driven classroom. While everyone will be coding individually, problems will be solved as a group via the big screen.

There’s a strong focus on coding by hand, which at first glance sounds a bit old fashion given the aids available to programmers these days. However, as Mike Ellan explained it, “If you write the code, you can fix the code.” This pairs nicely with the idea that the first year of the program is meant to build the programmer’s tool-kit – giving them the technical know-how and personal library of code needed to put creative concepts into motion come second year.

Equally impressive was the metrics by which the Interactive students will be judged. They’re not only going to be graded based on their technical skills, but also by their ability to work with creatives. Just like in a real agency, a highly technical coder isn’t much good if they can’t work with creatives to bring a concept to fruition.

In 14 years, the Creative Circus has never expanded their program offering. It has always been, Art Direction, Design, Copywriting and Photography. Until now. While it’s safe to say that the new Interactive Program hasn’t been 14 years in the making, after spending a few days on campus it was clear that it wasn’t hatched overnight either. The proverbial I’s have been dotted and the T’s crossed. They set out to replicate the agency environment and create an accurate simulated workflow – and in my opinion, they’re well on their way.







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